Daniel Hintz is the founder and CEO of the Velocity Group, an experience design firm in Northwest Arkansas. Prior to starting the company in 2014, Hintz served as executive director of Downtown Bentonville, Inc. for nearly seven years. As a consultant who works closely with downtown development, he encourages communities to discover and tell their stories. He says, “It’s about helping communities become stronger in who they are and what they want to become.”
The Milwaukee native definitely doesn’t fall into one category when it comes to interests. Hintz is equal parts entrepreneur, storyteller and foodie. He relocated to Northwest Arkansas from Seattle in 2004, where he co-founded TheatreSquared with his wife, who also has a background in theater. Prior to the move, Hintz had only visited his mother in Northwest Arkansas. “We took a risk. It was a risk that offered enormous return,” he said of his move to the area.
Hintz has been interested in the culinary scene in Northwest Arkansas since his arrival here, which may explain why he easily correlates food with business. When assessing communities, Hintz has an interesting concept to aid in the process. He likes to think developing a community plan is like “setting the table,” in that it’s a process of deciding who is invited to the table and what the seating arrangement looks like. “Food is a metaphor for creating community. Everyone has to eat; it works as a universal starting point, and becomes a lot easier to bring people to the table,” he explains. Hintz also believes that food plays a significant role in the identity of our area and credits Chef Miles James for setting the pace to evolve the food culture. In Northwest Arkansas, food has advanced beyond restaurants into food innovation, distribution and into a thriving farming community.
Like the evolution of the culinary scene, downtowns have experienced something similar. “The fire pit was the first downtown…then it was a town square,” he says. He believes that downtowns work because they are about engaging others and help form an automatic sense of community. “Downtowns are very much about a porch community; you are outward looking,” he describes. Trying to help ignite the sense of community in a downtown is one thing that Hintz enjoys about his job.
Success of a downtown is due to many factors. Hintz believes that it’s critical to have pioneers, or the people who are willing to set a goal and build momentum to reach it. He also says that patience, opportunity and risk are part of the plan. Part of risk is trusting the systems that are in place to work together to benefit the project. For example, he says that municipalities, the private market and the non-profit side all have a role in a downtown to help it move forward. In addition, he feels that competition, collaboration and cooperation help to keep progress fresh and sustainable. Ultimately, implementation is the key to a successful downtown master plan. According to Hintz, “It’s not about a single big project, but about an aggregate of projects.”
When determining the personality of a downtown area, Hintz says that the discovery process is an important starting point. “You can’t have an outside person come in and tell you what you are,” he says. He notes that during the discovery process, a good facilitator will ask the right questions to help a community uncover its existing assets. The facilitator’s role is to help the community recognize those assets and help it position them in a new or different manner. For example, the assets of most communities can be found by asking where a resident would take a visitor, or use as a photo opportunity. These popular places to visit are usually what is unique and special about a downtown or a community as a whole.
As for what his long term plans look like, Hintz gives a chuckle. Whatever those plans look like, they will surely involve more learning, creativity and some culinary exploration. “I love the process of learning what I don’t know,” he says happily. “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I enjoy the work,” he adds.
To learn more about Daniel Hintz and the Velocity Group, you can visit www.dnaofplace.com.